August 17, 2015
The last three Sundays, The Sunday Times has published a series of articles that have garnered a ton of attention about the doping problem in athletics. The genesis of the articles was a leaked IAAF blood database from 2001-2012 that has the results of all the blood tests conducted by the IAAF during that time period.
We think some of the conclusions reached by the general press on the series have been a bit sensationalist and discuss the Sunday Times articles in more depth in a separate article here.
However, the Sunday Times exposé has shown us there needs to be A LOT MORE TRANSPARENCY in the anti-doping fight. Independent drug testing agencies need to be established everywhere, and they also need to share a lot more data publicly. Opening yourself up to public scrutiny can only improve the anti-doping fight, and IF the sport is getting cleaner, the public needs to be aware of it.
The IAAF and WADA have been sharing blood data since 2009. That would mean if the IAAF is covering up blood profile positives, WADA is complicit.1 We don’t think this is going on, but there needs to be more transparency on the anti-doping front to assure us.
1. Athletes names need to be released when there is an “A” and “B” sample positive or a biological passport positive
Once an athlete has a “B” sample positive or proceedings are being brought against them because of the passport, an athlete has been essentially charged with a crime and their names need to be released so the public is confident there is not a cover-up. A big problem with some of the Russian positives that came out in the last year is how long they took to get out. We at LRC received an anonymous email about their being a Liliya Shobukhova cover-up in Russia. Eventually her name came out as a doper. The IAAF announced last week that 28 athletes are being sanctioned from re-testing of the 2005 and 2007 samples, but can’t name the names yet. The names need to come out so we can be confident stars aren’t being covered-up. Athletes do not deserve anonymity once they are charged with a crime. Did the re-testing that led to the 28 positives this week only occur because of the scrutiny from the initial ARD documentary and scrutiny the IAAF received last year? Who knows, but thank you ARD. If the IAAF had announced they were re-testing the old samples (transparency) months ago, the public would be more confident they weren’t doing this because ARD caught them not doing their job.
2. The WADA code needs to be changed to strip all athletes of all performances before they tested positive
If an athlete tests positive for a major drug (two-year suspension or more), they should lose all their performances EVER before that date. There may not be conclusive proof of doping, so we don’t have to move everyone else up in the standings, but it is a joke that Rashid Ramzi is the 2005 world champion at 800 and 1500 when he was busted for drugs at the 2008 Olympics. Our reading of the Sunday Times stuff was all the most blatant cheats were eventually caught by the IAAF. Nowhere in the articles does it say, “this athlete had million to one blood values and was never caught.” The big problem was the cheats got to keep all their previous medals, so it makes the sport look terrible.
3. Athletes’ blood values should be posted publicly
We moved this one to #1 from #3 as we had some internal debate on it. Right now anti-doping is all done inside of a black box. While we see no evidence of a direct IAAF cover-up, there is the huge possibility they are not going after dopers as strongly as they could. Something needs to be done to show the public that suspicious values are being followed up on, so it is time to release athletes’ blood values. Tell athletes starting January 1, 2016, their blood profile data will be public. Athletes will know this in advance and there hopefully will be some context — if abnormal blood values can be explained away, explain them away. At least show the public the most blatant cheats are gone from the sport. As for retroactively releasing the data, if it is going to be done we don’t think it should be done selectively. As is, The Sunday Times has selectively been releasing the names of a few athletes who haven’t had suspicious blood values, implying that they are clean. A clean blood profile does not mean an athlete is clean, but also from what we’ve been told a high blood value does not necessarily mean an athlete is dirty. The IAAF and WADA will be reluctant to release blood data, so the World Marathon Majors should take the lead and say, “If you want to run our races, you will be blood tested and we will post the results.”Some at LRC disagreed with releasing the data with names for privacy reasons, but most of don’t see what a problem an athlete can have with someone saying “your hematrocrit is X, your hemoglobin is Y, your off-score is Z”. A compromise might be to release the data with names removed somehow. Collectively, how many athletes have crazy blood values?
Note: 1. The facts are the legal bar is very, very high — perhaps too high — to convict someone on a biological passport positive, and that may be one reason The Sunday Times can say not enough athletes are having their cases prosecuted. (Recently skier Andrus Veerpalu got off for an HGH positive due to a statistical technicality despite the Court of Arbitration for Sport saying there “were many factors in this case which tend to indicate that Andrus Veerpalu did in fact himself administer exogenous HGH”). We’d rather have a dirty athlete get by than an innocent athlete convicted, but perhaps the authorities should be less reluctant to bring ABP cases.